Sewing Guide: How to Fix a Zipper

article image
Don't fly off the handle if your fly gives you fits. This guide will tell you all you need to keep things together.

While looking through MOTHER EARTH NEWS the other day — and being
amazed at the variety of information that passes through
her pages — I realized that I too have a skill that
should be shared. It’s a humble accomplishment, but one
that few people seem to know: zipper repair.

Inevitably, it’s the zipper do your favorite pair of pants
that pulls apart . . .  and even if you have some sewing
skill, you probably dread the thought of replacing the
device. (It always seems harder to fit a new closure into
an already-put-together opening than it is to make the
trousers in the first place.) One option is to sew buttons
on the underside of the fly and make buttonholes on the
overlapping flap — but if you like zippers better,
don’t, for heaven’s sake, banish the garment to the ragbag.
The damaged fastener may well be fixable.

The usual problem is that the zipper head has pulled off one side of the teeth and ceased to connect
the gap. Well, all is not lost. Turn the pants inside out
and look at the lower end of the fastening. You’ll probably
see two, three, or four metal prongs or a metal rectangle
(depending on which side the fitting was put in from). This
is the stop, which keeps the head of the zipper from,
scooting off the track at the bottom.

With pliers (needle-nosed are the easiest to use), pry open
the prongs and remove the stop. Don’t lose it! There may be
stitching across the zipper tapes instead of, or in
addition to, the metal barrier. In that case, take out
enough of the thread to free the inside and lower edges of
the cloth tabs.

The next step is to slip the head off the zipper. If the
device will move only upward, unsew just the edges of the
garment’s waistband to permit removal of the slider from
the top.

A look at the zipper’s head will show you that either the
top or the bottom — but not both — is divided into
two holes, and that a pull-tab is mounted on the front.
With the double-holed end up, and the tab raised and facing
the front of the pants, ease the end of the left tape into
the left hole on the slider. Then, keeping the head below
all of the zipper’s teeth, work the right tape into the
right hole. This is the hardest part of the business and
calls for a lot of dexterity and maneuvering on occasion.
In case the bits of cloth are frayed, you can help matters
by trimming or wetting them. Be patient and keep trying.

Once the head is on the tapes, hold the cloth tabs with
their ends even and slide the zipper’s moving part up onto
the teeth.

Pull it along far enough to see how the fastener behaves.
Are the tapes still aligned properly? If not, slip the head
back onto the cloth and start again. Do the teeth mesh? No?
Try moving the head farther up the track. Still no luck? It
may help to interlock the portion of the zipper below the
head by hand, and then run the slider up and down. Don’t
worry about any teeth that are missing near the bottom — just get the gadget working above that point. Even a
zipper with gaps in the middle may operate once you get it
started, if you’re gentle enough. In any case, keep trying!
I often don’t get the zipping action going on my first

When you’ve finally persuaded the zipper to mesh properly,
close it halfway. If you had to undo part of the waistband,
safety-pin the tapes together at the top so the head won’t
fall off.

Replace the stop by poking the prongs back through the tape
and clamping them down with pliers. The guard will be
stronger if you place it over some of the lower teeth (and
be sure to bypass any that are defective or absent, by
locating the metal barrier above that area).

In case the stop is missing — or too mangled to
use — sew the tapes together securely near or over the
bottom teeth. Finish the repair, if necessary, by redoing
the sewing at the zipper’s lower end and on the waistband.

Trouser zippers aren’t, of course, the only ones that can
be mended. They just happen to be on my mind right now
because I found my favorite old pants — the ones with
the busted fastener — in the basement while visiting my
folks. I fixed them up just fine and am enjoying the

Actually, I learned the above process at the National
Outdoor Leadership School, where we used it to repair
fastenings on tents and pack bags. It seemed complicated at
first but saved the time, effort, and expense of replacing
a myriad of zippers that had been derailed by hard use. And
there was rarely any need to baby the equipment after
overhaul, either. (Incidentally, coil
zippers — commonly used on outdoor equipment — like
to come unsprung from their tapes and can often be resewn.
Just study the device to figure out how it’s fastened, and
replace the stitches neatly.)

Oh, yes, one more thing: A sticky zipper will run smoothly
if you rub it with paraffin.

I hope this information proves useful. I’ve learned a lot
of handy things from MOTHER’s readers and would like to
return the favor.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368